We are now into the second quarter of the season. In one sense, the schedule lightens a bit, as two projected bottom-feeders emerge. In another sense, however, the Vikings face two playoff teams in this stretch, including the champs.
Week 5: Oct. 7 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota gets two tough road games in a row. Week four, they have a Rams team that not only won its division last year, but also heavily loaded up defensively. Just one week later, the Vikings take on the defending Super Bowl champs. This game is not quite as daunting as the previous, as Minnesota will have a long week to prepare. But Carson Wentz and the Eagles still look to be one of the toughest outs in football.
Now, these Eagles are certainly not identical to the group that trounced the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Most glaringly, the aforementioned Wentz will most likely be taking snaps rather than Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. They have lost a few key contributors, Vinny Curry, Trey Burton and LeGarrette Blount the most notable. But they have also added some pieces. Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata join the already-stacked defensive line while Mike Wallace, Richard Rodgers and rookie Dallas Goedert give Wentz some new weapons.
Many fans likely have this game circled as a grudge match. While these two teams were considered by many to be the two best in the conference, the Vikings certainly did not look like it in the NFC Championship Game. The secondary, pass rush and offense performed well below capabilities. This time, they have a new quarterback and the Eagles’ former quarterbacks coach running the offense. We will see how each team’s adjustments affect round two’s outcome.
Week 6: Oct. 14 vs. Arizona Cardinals
What are expectations of the Cardinals? Realistically, anything from three wins to 10 is in play. They are presumably going to bat with former Viking Sam Bradford at quarterback for as long as he stays healthy, but who knows how long that will be. Same goes for star running back David Johnson. When on the field, he is one of the league’s most dynamic play-makers. But he too has injury history, including missing basically all of 2017. Given Bradford’s one-year guaranteed contract, the expectations for him as the long-term starter were likely nil to begin with. Then they drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall, which essentially shut the door on Bradford’s chances.
That said, we will operate under the assumption that Bradford will be under center in Minnesota week six. It will be interesting to see the reception he gets from the crowd. He played reasonably well in 17 starts, winning nine (well, really eight, Case Keenum won last year’s game in Chicago though Bradford started). He had some exciting games but was largely average, due in part to a lackluster offensive line and part to his own caution.
As for the game itself, Arizona is a mystery. They could turn out to be the second-best team in the division or the worst. They have a good amount of talent, including perennial All-Pros Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. But offensively, outside of Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, they are hurting for weapons. Fitzgerald is on his last hurrah, but still productive. We will see how new coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy work with this somewhat uninviting roster.
Week 7: Oct. 21 @ New York Jets
Easy win for the Vikings, even as a road game, right? Well, maybe. The Jets on paper certainly look like one of the league’s weakest teams. Other than a few pieces here and there, the Jets did not spend huge in free agency. Instead, they continue to try building through the draft. It may work out for them; New York appears to have drafted well, including finding their quarterback in Sam Darnold and some upside picks into day three. But for 2018, they appear to have some of the lowest expectations.
Now, road games are never easy in the NFL. As such, the Vikings should not overlook the Jets. But truth be told, virtually everyone is going to mark this one as a win on the calendar preseason. That is, unless Darnold takes the world by storm in a 2012 Andrew Luck-esque fashion.
Week 8: Oct. 28 vs. New Orleans Saints
Earlier, we discussed the Vikings’ grudge match in Philly. Well, this is the Saints’ grudge match. For some reason, after having to travel to Minnesota twice last season, the Saints have to do it again. And that means a week of digging up the skeleton that was the Minneapolis Miracle.
Everyone remembers what happened, so we do not need to go over it again. But safe to say that Drew Brees and Cameron Jordan may have a little extra juice behind them for this one. New Orleans still looks to be one of the top teams in the NFC with virtually no changes to the top of its depth chart. Mark Ingram will be back from suspension by now, so their two-head monster of him and Alvin Kamara will once again be a focal point of the Vikings’ gameplan.
For the Vikings, this will be their first home game against a projected Super Bowl-contender. They have had the Saints’ number the last 12 months in terms of wins and losses. But New Orleans may very well see this as the biggest game on the schedule. As the Vikings reach the halfway point of the season, it certainly will not be a time for resting on laurels.